Theoretical considerations in the use of scalar-tensor theories of gravity in inflationary models
Edwards, David Craig
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The inflationary paradigm is one which was designed to answer questions that arose from classical Hot Big Bang cosmology. The period of rapid expansion in the early Universe provides a mechanism to solve the flatness, horizon and relic problems. More importantly, since the theory was first introduced it has been realised that it also provides a mechanism to generate the initial perturbations from which structure in the Universe can grow. In the zoo of potential inflationary models there is a dominant class: slow-roll inflation. The idea that the energy density of the inflationary field is dominated by its potential highly simplifies the calculations required to predict observable quantities. This simplification relies on all the information required to know the subsequent dynamics of the field to be encoded in the space ϕ− ˙ϕ; it must be an effective phase space. I show that ϕ−˙ϕ can be considered to be such a space for the most general scalar-tensor theory which gives second-order equations of motion: Horndeski theory. There are theoretical issues associated with this reduction that are illuminated through specific examples in which they occur. A theoretical issue with inflation is that there is an overabundance of models, with some capable of predicting any value of the possible observables. The second block of work in this thesis looks at a particular set of models that make the same observational prediction. These “attractor” models utilise a non-minimal coupling between the inflationary fields and gravity and are studied in depth, both in the case of one and several fields. Firstly, I examine the Universal Attractors, a single field subset of these models. I show, in detail, the observational prediction such a model makes in the case of a strong non-minimal coupling and then examine the constraints it would be possible to put on such a coupling if a confirmed detection of primordial gravitational waves was made. Despite the discussion existing in the literature there is a small deviation of the Universal Attractor models from the predictions of the Starobinsky model. Furthermore, the coupling, ξ is found to be constrained so that |ξ| < 1 in the case where there a level of detectable primordial tensor modes. While the attractor models have an effective one-field description in reality there are several other fields that are assumed to be fixed during the inflationary phase. This claim requires careful examination as the field-space of the models generally is not flat. This curvature can cause a destabilising effect with certain parameters and so I investigate how susceptible the ξ-attractors and related models are to the destabilisation. A key result of this chapter is to highlight how important it is to not rely on the slow-roll approximation when assessing the effect of the instability, as the region where the effect begins to become large corresponds with the region where slow-roll begins to break down. Assuming the slow-roll approximation is valid leads to an over-estimation of the effect that the instability mechanism has. Despite this, some of the models considered are seen to experience the instability for certain ranges of model parameters. Making the assumption that any occurrence of the instability will, at the very least, move the observational prediction of the model outside the currently constrained range allows a constraint on the model parameter in question which directly translates to a theoretical lower bound on the tensor-scalar ratio, r > 0.0005.